Braden Brown was only four years old when he made a couple of decisions that changed his life.
The big 6-foot-6, 300-pound sophomore right tackle for BYU was just a little tyke back then when he woke up in the middle of the night, smelled smoke and saw fire. He warned his family but as everyone ran out of the house, he got scared and hid in an upstairs bedroom closet.
With flames climbing the walls and smoke pouring out of the windows, his father saw Braden was missing and, without hesitating, raced back into the house in search of his son. Both escaped, but his father had third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body and almost died. He spent three months in ICU, almost lost his hands, and Braden, with burns on his back and face, was hospitalized for three weeks.
"The firemen said if they had been there when my father decided to go back in for me, they would have stopped him because it was too dangerous," said Braden.
Today, Braden's father Leslie is a managing director and chief financial officer of Huntsman Gay Global Capital. He is a partner with Jon Huntsman Sr. in this worldwide investment group that also has Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young as a director.
Braden helped lead Highland High to a 4A football title before serving an LDS Mission to San Juan, Puerto Rico. He is now married and, as part of his life decisions, has spent time working in a service project in Cuenca, Ecuador, building a school and irrigation systems.
"My dad is a hero. He saved my life," said Braden. "I was the one who woke up in the middle of the night and woke my family up, but I was just a scared little kid. Pretty much by the time the ambulance came, the house was burned to the ground.
"I've looked up to my dad all my life. He's been such a great example to me and he's the nicest guy I know. He would give you the shirt off his back. He's always looking for ways to serve other people, and I've tried to adopt that in my life."
Whatever genetic or emotional triggers Braden Brown is blessed with, one that has always stood out is his energetic passion for sports, his love of football and his drive to be competitive and win — a survivor's instinct.
Braden was a tight end when BYU defeated Tulane in New Orleans last year.
But the Cougars had suffered some injuries early in the season and, on the plane ride home, offensive coordinator Robert Anae approached Braden and asked if he would consider switching to offensive tackle.
Without hesitation, Brown told Anae if it meant playing more and helping the team move forward, he'd absolutely become a blocker instead of a pass-catcher. There went the dream of following in the footsteps of Dennis Pitta.
To do so, Brown needed to add weight to his 250-pound frame. In the course of 10 months, he put on 50 pounds, and this fall he weighed in at 300 pounds.
He digested a lot of lean protein, oatmeal and vowed to avoid eating out.
Braden's dedication led to a starting job this fall, opposite All-American left tackle Matt Reynolds on BYU's giant, mature O-line.
His coach, Mark Weber, says Brown has some built-up energy and it doesn't take much to get him ignited and fired up to play.
"I'm not sure what makes him tick 'cause he's very unique," said Weber.
He is wound extremely tight. Case in point? Film sessions when plays are dissected usually have Brown nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
"Our offensive line room is next to the room with the running backs, and Braden's chair is next to the wall where the backs are watching film," Weber said. "Because the backs get into the film room sooner, Brown knew his mistakes would show up and teammates started saying, 'Oh, oh, Brown's coming up.' Anticipating this, Braden starts knocking his head against the wall.
"He does not like to make mistakes. He goes hard. He has a very good football IQ and he loves to play the game, and you can see that in the way he plays. He is extremely athletic for an offensive lineman. He runs very well and when we pull a tackle, it's because of his talent. He's very productive. He has great feet and change of direction."
If something happened to Reynolds, Weber's first thought would be putting Brown in his spot — the protector of the back of the QB.
A basketball player, Braden loves knocking bodies around.
"I love the physical aspect of it the most, and I love the camaraderie you have on a team. I love football because you can be so physical and have so much fun doing it," he said.
Brown said BYU's season-opening over Washington hatched bright hopes, but losing four straight games after that brought frustration.
"The San Diego State game we saw as a new season, a fresh start," he said. "Since then, we've gone 2-1. We had a good first half against TCU and that gave us something to build on."
Speaking for his teammates up front on the O-line, Brown says BYU's blocking corps loves it when they get out and run block. And when that works, it fires them up.
"It's been awesome. One thing I've noticed since I've been an offensive lineman is they love it when we run the ball, and they really love it when we have success running the ball," Brown said. "When we do well, it's the best indicator of how well we're doing as an offensive line and as an offense. If we can run the game, we're having a good game .
"The games we've run for more than 200 yards have been awesome and we've had an awesome time. That is one of our goals is to be physical, move the other line and get physical. Coach Weber always says it's not who you block but how you do it, so we've really tried to focus on that. We know who to block but there's a difference in getting nasty and physical and dominating."
If Braden has a strength, he hopes it is seen in how much he cares, works and, yes, bangs his head on the wall in film sessions.
"I like to think my teammates can count on me," he said. "I watch a lot of film and study my opponents during the week and study the plays and the concepts we're going in with each game.
"I like to go into a game knowing I'm confident and my teammates can trust me. That's a huge thing — that you can trust the guy next to you."
His father proved that a long time ago.